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“Wait…don’t leave me!” What you should do now to minimize staff turnover

The ball dropped, the year changed, and the hiring started—at least that was what happened at Commongood Careers as 2010 rushed in.  Social entrepreneurs that had temporarily slowed their growth efforts rushed back in to high gear, looking for outstanding talent to leverage their impact.  Yet while this increase in hiring is great news for the sector, it also means with so many exciting new opportunities beckoning, the amazing people that you already have may be contemplating a change of scenery.

As the economy begins to pick up, employees everywhere (the ones who have tirelessly “done more with less”) smell the fresh air and think about what life might be like in a different role, or in a different organization.  Now that more options are opening up, people who were “just happy to have a job” are starting to realize that they’ve been stressed out and over-worked for a while, or that they feel that their professional growth has hit a plateau. (Are you one of the people sniffing the winds of change? Tell us what is driving you to change jobs or leave the sector.)

So what should you do to minimize turnover in your organization? It’s time for a pulse check.  Be proactive: connect with each of your staff members about his or her individual job satisfaction, and take action to show that you’re really listening.  But beware: how you handle this conversation is crucial—your staff may still be worried about their job security, so they must trust that something other than “everything’s great!” won’t get them fired.  Once you have a trusting, supportive atmosphere, her are a few crucial things to do during your conversation:

Find out what’s lacking, and then find creative ways to offer “more.” Someone saying they are leaving because of a “competitive offer,” is just like someone saying, “It’s not you—it’s me,” to end a romantic relationship.  Is it true?  Sure, it’s probably true some of the time—and in those instances there is nothing else that you could have done (besides offer more money) to make a person stay.  But most of the time it is simply the easiest, least hurtful explanation for leaving an organization—but it may not be the complete truth.  Sure, a competitive offer is great—there are few people who would say no to more money in their paycheck—but money’s power as a motivator is often greatly overestimated.  After all, you are working with a subset of people who have deliberately chosen to earn less money in order to have a career with a deeper meaning.  Everyone has their own motivators, and its up to you to understand what is important to each member of your staff—and thus what would make them happier and more effective in the job they have now.  Ask your staff what is missing from their role right now, and find creative ways to give them “more.”  Here are a few “more” things you can give them (besides money, of course):
More freedom to direct their own projects, to prioritize what’s needed, and to work in their own style
More flexibility to work their own hours, to work unconventional hours, or work from home
More challenges that will help them develop professionally and also add value to your organization
More input into and ownership of key decisions that affect their job and the strategic direction of your organization
More balance by thinking hard about priorities and eliminating work that your organization can live without

Tune in to the dreams of your staff.   When you were in kindergarten, everyone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.  It was a question asked with the belief that you were just started on a journey—that you were on your way to becoming something else.  Now, if you go to a cocktail party, everyone will ask what you do—a question that assumes that you’ve “arrived.”  But while it is easy to think of people and positions as something static, most of us are constantly striving to improve ourselves and become better than we were before.  Do you know what your employees want to be when they “grow up” (to take their next job)?  What do they want to do next?  How can you help them achieve that goal?  Does it align with the needs of your organization? By tuning in to the dreams of your staff, you can better understand the challenges and next steps they are looking to take, and make sure that your staff are built in to the internal talent pipeline of your organization.

Share your future staffing plans, and get staff input.  For every position that you have, you should be thinking about a potential succession plan.  Make sure you include your staff in these plans (especially now that you know where each of them want to go), and share your thoughts with them.  If you have a staff member who you think might be great for another position in your organization after more training or more experience, tell him about it. Be honest and clear about where you see him fitting in to your organization’s future—what skills he needs to gain, what weaknesses he would need to strengthen, and what further experience he needs.  Hopefully, he will be flattered that you see this potential in him, and will happily work even harder to continue developing.  While you may have thought about him in the future of your organization, if he never hears of your plans, he may assume that there is really no future for him there—and may already be quietly looking elsewhere.

By being proactive, listening, and genuinely showing that you are truly committed to the growth and the needs of each member of your staff, you can minimize turnover at your organization.

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